Protests pushed Columbia 'to the brink,' university president says after NYPD makes arrests

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Protests pushed Columbia 'to the brink,' university president says
Janice Yu is live in Morningside Heights with details on the fallout from arrests at Columbia University.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It was a much calmer scene on Wednesday after an intense night at Columbia University led to the arrests of more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters by the NYPD.

Police say approximately 109 people were arrested at Columbia as officers moved in to clear the occupied Hamilton Hall. The school was closed Wednesday and only students who live on campus and essential employees were allowed on campus.

For a couple hours on Wednesday, students and faculty demonstrated outside the gates of the campus with a sizeable police presence. It was a pro-Palestinian protest, though much of the focus and anger was directed at the university's administration.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik told the campus community in a letter Wednesday that the "drastic escalation" of months-long protests "pushed the University to the brink."

The letter said the protests created "a disruptive environment for everyone and raising safety risks to an intolerable level."

"I know I speak for many members of our community in saying that this turn of events has filled me with deep sadness. I am sorry we reached this point," Shafik said.

The school also announced Wednesday that all academic activities, including final exams, will be fully remote.

The NYPD arrived on the Morningside Heights campus around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Police say they believed the threat level on Columbia's campus had increased. The NYPD says protesters from the outside were escalating the situation with student protesters, and that action needed to be taken.

Marcus Solis is live in Morningside Heights with the fallout from the arrests at Columbia University.

In its statement, the university said after they learned protesters had entered Hamilton Hall and "occupied, vandalized, and blockaded" it, they were left with "no choice" but to allow the police in. The university also said in a statement that they believe "that the group that broke into and occupied the building is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University."

Video footage from Tuesday showed protesters on Columbia's campus locking arms in front of Hamilton Hall and carrying furniture and metal barricades to the building after smashing through part of a glass door.

The school said in a statement that those protesters will face expulsion.

Shortly before police arrived in Morningside Heights Tuesday evening, Columbia's emergency management operations team alerted students to shelter in place for their safety. Just moments later, police in helmets and shields entered the protester-occupied Hamilton Hall.

Officers could be seen climbing a ladder and entering the building through a second-floor window of Hamilton Hall.

Josh Einiger has more details on how police executed a precise and delicate operation at Columbia University Tuesday night.

The NYPD got into the academic hall by using a bear cat, as protesters barricaded themselves inside using furniture, locks, and anything they could find to block entrances.

Officials say that once police were inside, they deployed four so-called "flash bang" grenades. They did not use tear gas or any other force.

Police say the people occupying Hamilton Hall were "mostly professionals," rather than students. There were no reported injuries during the operation.

Hamilton Hall was likely chosen because of its significance as it has been the center of campus protests and seized throughout history. It was one of several that was occupied during a 1968 Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus.

WATCH | Professor looks back at Columbia University's Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War protests of 1968:

Darla Miles speaks with Jim Kunen, who participated in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War protests at Columbia University back in 1968.

The attention now turns to commencement on May 15. Students start finals on Friday after their study days have been disrupted by activity on campus.

The NYPD is preliminarily planning to deploy about 15 to 20 officers to Columbia University through graduation, depending on the university's daily security needs. NYPD and university administrators will meet to determine what security make sense for the university.

WATCH | Eyewitness News coverage as NYPD moves in on Columbia campus

Eyewitness News has team coverage as the NYPD begins arresting protesters on campus at Columbia University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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